Tag Archives: autism

Bully Preparedness Is Even More Important for Autistic Youths

Bullying is a pervasive problem in private and public schools alike, and unfortunately children and teens with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are easy targets. 46 percent of all middle and high school aged children with ASD reported being bullied in 2011, while a staggering 70percent of autistic youths in mainstream schools were bullied. As we head back to school and for many, back to bullies, it’s time to review a few things we can do to help safeguard our autistic children against bullies.

As always, our first bit of advice: talk to your child. Help them understand what bullying means and why it’s wrong to mistreat others. Offer specific examples of appropriate interactions, but also help them know what kinds of behaviors to look out for in others. If someone pulls their hair, they may know it hurts, but them may not know if it’s bullying. Keep the lines of communication open so they can come to you with any questions.

Next, make a recess game plan with your child. Make sure they have been introduced to playground monitors, cafeteria aides, and other school staff so they can feel comfortable going to them if they are bullied. Tell them to always play where they can see a playground monitor and never to follow bigger kids or a group of kids away from adult supervision. Try making a detailed recess schedule (5mins on swings, 5 mins jumping rope…).

Make a plan for what they will do if they are bullied. If your child recognizes that they are being bullied and they know what to do next, it may help to reduce some of their terror and anxiety while it is happening. Make sure they know to report it immediately to their teacher and to you.

Talk to your child’s teacher, bus driver, cafeteria aides, anyone at the school who may be able to keep an eye out for your child. If they are aware of your child’s special needs, they will happily help keep him safe. Keep an open dialogue so they will report anything they see, but also so your child knows whom they can trust when they get into trouble.

Talk to other parents. Get to know the parents of other children with disabilities at your school, and make sure your children get acquainted. They may not become best friends, but they can help look out for each other. Many children who are bullied are too ashamed or afraid to report their abuse to a teacher, parent, or official. Help your kids help each other by knowing how to report bullying they see happening to someone else.

Every school has an anti-bullying policy, yet it seems that we hear of worse and worse cases of bullying every year.  As school resources get stretched further and further, parents have to get involved more and more to protect their kids and safeguard their education.

The Birds, The Bees, and Autism

A recent study from the University of Toronto found that autistic adults are at greater risk of sexual victimization and indicates lower levels of sexual knowledge than their typically-developing peers.  The study revealed that 78% of the participants on the autism spectrum reported at least one instance of victimization versus less than 50% of the non-autistic control group.

The survey-based study asked participants a range of questions regarding unwanted contact, knowledge of reproductive health, contraception, and sexuality. Compared to the control group, the ASD participants were also found more likely to turn to the Internet and television for sexual information rather than their parents, teachers, or peers.

The best way to safeguard our children against sexual victimization is through education, but having “The Talk” with a child with autism can be even more difficult and awkward (especially for the parent) than what’s already an uncomfortable rite of passage for any parent. That’s why we’ve pulled together some basic tips to help you keep your autistic children safe by talking to them about sex.

It’s an awkward subject, which is why we often use euphemisms and metaphors to talk about sex, especially with children. For a child with autism who is extremely literal, however, talk about birds and bees and flowers and trees can be extremely confusing and lead to difficult misunderstandings. That’s why it’s very important to always be as clear and specific as possible. Think about how your child may interpret your words before you choose them. Preparing your son for his voice to change and get deeper like Daddy’s will probably cause less anxiety than bracing them for their voice to “break.”

Be open to any questions and ready to answer clearly. If you don’t know the answer to one of their questions, be honest – don’t make guess or make something up. Simply answer, “I’m not sure, why don’t we look that up together?” Your child may ask awkward questions at inappropriate times, so get the whole family on board with the stock answer, “That is a good question, but we’ll talk about it when we get home.” Just be sure to talk about it as soon as you get home so your child continues to go to you with their questions.

Start the dialogue as early as possible by talking with your child about their body and any questions they may have. You want them to feel comfortable talking with you, get used to coming to you with their questions, and develop an awareness of their body. This will help pave the way for the puberty talk.

Children with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) often have difficulty with transitions and need more time to adjust to changes than their non-autistic peers. That’s why it’s important to start preparing your child for puberty early. Discus the changes they will experience as clearly and calmly as possible to minimize their anxiety when it happens. Again, be prepared for questions beyond the standard, “Why?” and know how you will handle questions you don’t have answers to.

Don’t be afraid to use pictures (that you deem appropriate) if your child is a visual learner. Remember, you are doing this to protect them. You can show your child pictures of you from infancy to adulthood and notice and point out the more obvious ways that you have changed as you grew up. The idea is to introduce them to the notion of physically changing in a way that isn’t scary. You can also use basic outlines of the body to assist with more intimate lines of discussion.

Talk to your child’s teachers and school. Find out what and how they will handle sexual education every year so you can make sure that home and school explanations and terminology are consistent.  You may determine that the school’s curriculum isn’t paced appropriately for your child or that it assumes more prior knowledge than your child is prepared with. You may need to supplement the school’s lessons by helping your child understand them on a deeper, clearer level. Children with ASDs may need to understand why we have to bathe every day before they accept it. Also concepts like friendship and appropriate behaviors may need to be clarified at home.

Don’t be afraid to get your pediatrician involved in the conversation. They are already experts at not being embarrassed by awkward conversations and this will help prepare your child for future examinations and conversations about contraception and sexual health.

Building your child’s understanding of private vs. public behavior as well as appropriate behavior for both themselves and others can be a bit tricky. Set guidelines about whom your child is allowed to discuss certain subjects with and start to introduce the idea of private vs. public spaces. Let them know what behaviors are only acceptable in the bathroom or the bedroom and when it’s necessary to knock before entering a room.

It can be painful to see our children grow up, and it is a natural instinct for many parents to maintain their children’s innocence and avoid awkward conversations by keeping them in the dark about sex-related issues. For children with autism, that darkness can be a very dangerous place. Misinformation or inappropriate relationships are readily available on the Internet, so be sure to set filters and blocks to safeguard your child while online. Also monitor their computer usage and check their browser history – this may help you understand what information your child is looking for and ensure you are the one to provide it. Keep your autistic child, teen, or young adult safe by always knowing where they are and whom they are with. Always be ready to field their questions, and never be shy about asking them questions. By establishing open and clear communication with your child about their body and sex, you are paving the way for a safer future.

Tips For Back To School Shopping With An Autistic Child

The countdown is on for that first day back at school. For many, the ritual of buying new clothes and shoes is fun, exciting, and builds anticipation for the big day. For children on the autism spectrum, back to school shopping can be tedious, traumatic, over stimulating, and build anxiety for the dreaded transition back to school. We’ve compiled a few tips that may help minimize the stress and help you make a smoother transition.

Shop online whenever possible. Your child won’t be able to try anything on before you buy, but they probably won’t mind. When in doubt, buy clothes a size larger – you know they’ll fit before long – and always buy from a reputable site that makes returns easy for you.  Engage your child as much as possible in the process – they may even enjoy shopping from pictures and comparing prices and descriptions. Shopping online can save a lot of time and a lot of stress, as long as you are good with guessing sizes and stick with natural fabrics that allow your child to feel comfortable.

When you do have to go to a brick and mortar store, plan your strategy. Try to go when you know the stores won’t be crowded. This will reduce both your child’s and your stress levels, cut down on time waiting in lines for dressing rooms or a cashier, and minimize the impact on nosy strangers if your child should have a meltdown.

Involve your child in the process and try to make it fun by giving them a specific mission: We are looking for a blue cotton button down shirt in a boys’ size 8. By focusing on looking for an item that meets set criteria, your child may be able to block out other things that can be over-stimulating.

Take lots of breaks and choose more, shorter trips over one long shopping trip. It may be less convenient, but it will be much more manageable. Also familiarize yourself with the layout of stores and malls before you go. Know where the exits are so you can keep your child away from them or make a quick exit as needed. Also know where the bathrooms are – those few seconds saved by not searching or asking directions could be critical.

Choose your battles. No one knows your child as well as you. If he experiences tactile defensiveness, don’t even bother looking at clothes that aren’t made from soft cotton, have flat seams, and have tags that will be easy to completely remove. If your child has an aversion to a particular color or fabric or is fixated on a certain super hero, why not let them express that through their clothing?

Finally, remember: meltdowns happen. The best you can do is try to avoid your own meltdown so you can calmly manage your child’s. Stay hydrated and keep plenty of snacks and other rewards handy. Know what you’re shopping for ahead of time, where you are most likely to find it, and when the stores will be less crowded.  Take frequent breaks and if it gets to be too much for you or your child, go home. You can try again tomorrow or try shopping online.

Environmental Enrichment – At Home Sensory Stimulation Supplements Autism Therapies

Environmental enrichment is a simple, low-cost program that parents can implement at home to support sensory input therapies their children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). A recent clinical study led by Dr. Michael Leon, PhD of the University of California Irvine indicates a significant improvement of autism symptoms in children whose therapy was supplemented with environmental enrichment over those who stuck solely with their regular therapies.

The process is simple. Start by introducing a changing set of sensory exercises every morning and evening that engage at least two of the senses in any combination, like pairing a new fragrance with a gentle rub on the back or listening to classical music at bedtime while petting a soft blanket. Change the exercise every two weeks, making them increasingly more challenging, building to games like squeezing objects of different shapes, colors, and textures or pulling a specific toy out of a bag containing other items.

Sensory input therapies have been proven effective for children with ASD and have been increasingly incorporated into special education programs. Shema Kolainu – Hear Our Voices School and Center for Children with Autism in Brooklyn, NY features a Snoezelen Sensory room where children with autism can improve their auditory, visual, and motor skills by stimulating their senses while relaxing in a safe environment.

The clinical study indicated that 42% of the children receiving environmental enrichment in addition to their regular therapies saw a significant improvement after six months – more than 10 points on the Leitner International Performance Scale. However, like all ASD therepies, symptoms, and theories, results vary by individual. The good news is, environmental enrichment offers parents an opportunity to participate in their children’s growth, at little to no cost. There are no possible negative side effects, and it can be fun for both parent and child.

Back to School Tips for Parents of Autistic Children

Back to school is a stressful time for anyone, but for autistic children and their parents, the transition between sleepy summer Sundays and hectic Monday mornings can be traumatic.  That’s why we collected all the best tips to help make your back to school transition a little easier.

1: Countdown to change: The new school year brings a lot of changes all at once. The more prepared you and your child are (both practically and emotionally), the less stressful and more successful the transition will be.  Familiarize your child with everything that will be different. Arrange a visit to their new classroom and an introduction to their teacher before the new year starts. Take pictures if possible and add them to a visual calendar so your child knows what to expect and when to expect it.

2: Ease into new routines: Slowly adjust wake up times and other back to school changes in routine to mitigate the shock of that first day.  Practice leaving and coming home at the expected time and slowly introduce new after school routines.

3: Shop early and often: Buy all new clothes and supplies as early as possible and integrate them into your child’s world before school starts. It’s more important that your child feels comfortable on the first day of school than that they are seen in a brand new outfit.

4: Talk it out: Help your child be ready for unforeseen changes by talking about different scenarios ahead of time. Talk about what they will do in free times, at lunch periods, if they need the bathroom. Create stories around these scenarios so your child can visualize what to do when they need it. Also go over do’s and don’ts of school behavior, always demonstrating with a story.

5: Prepare yourself too: It’s easy to lose yourself in the endless lists of what to buy and do before that first day back to school, but you also need to prepare yourself and minimize your stress so you can be your child’s best advocate. Collect all the contact information for your child’s teachers, classmates, coaches, etc. as early as possible and keep it together so you always know who to call in any situation. Have your day mapped out as thoroughly as possible. See if you can’t find time for a walk, yoga class, or even five minutes to sit in the park. Regular scheduled time to de-stress will allow you to be a better parent and happier person.

Using Routines to Help Autistic Students With Post-High School Transition

The transition from high school to employment or college is a stressful challenge for any teenager, but that change in environment can be exponentially more difficult to navigate for a teen on the autism spectrum. Educators and parents can use routines to help prepare children for post-high school transitioning and cultivate skills they will need once they graduate.

Establishing routines can help autistic young adults become more independent and practice foundational skills they will need in their adult lives. Everything from telling time and self-grooming to balancing checkbooks and going on job interviews can be cultivated and practiced through routines. 

Start by identifying the task or activity you want to teach. Break it down into ordered steps and individualize the routine. Make a routine of practicing the routine. (Practice regularly, preferably at the same time and in the same environment.) Start by using a combination of natural and instructional cues. Use instructional cues to reinforce natural cues so that eventually the student will be able to complete the routine independently, using only natural cues.  Once the routine is mastered and becomes… routine, you can introduce changes such as location or time. The goal is for the student to understand the natural cue to begin the activity. 

If an autistic young adult practices routines they will need when they move on to college or employment, they will feel less overwhelmed by a new environment. If they are prepared with proper responses to possible scenarios, their transition will be less stressful and more likely to be a successful one.

Study Finds Inclusive Classrooms Boost Language Skills

Inclusive Classrooms Can Boost Language Up to 40%

A new study published in Psychologilcal Science finds that young children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD), particularly those with speech delays, improve their language development more rapidly in inclusive educational and social environments. The study found that preschoolers with disabilities who attended mainstream classes were using language on par with their highly skilled peers within just one school year. In contrast, ASD preschoolers who were surrounded solely by other children with a similar level of disability lagged far behind their typically-developing peers in the same time frame.

The study focused on 670 preschoolers in Ohio, of which slightly more than half had a language impairment, autism, or Down syndrome. Language skills of all the children were measured at the beginning and end of the school year via standardized testing.

The children with disabilities in inclusive classrooms outperformed those in exclusive classrooms for children with disabilities by 40 percent at the end of the year. Laura Justice, a professor of teaching and learning at Ohio State University and co-author of the study concludes that, “the typically-developing children act as experts who can help their classmates who have disabilities.”

It should be noted that while the children with disabilities were positively influenced by their highly-skilled peers, the children with the highest skill level were in no way negatively impacted by their exposure to their peers with disabilities.

The findings of this study certainly indicate that children can only benefit from an inclusive setting where they can learn from more advanced children and assist less advanced children. “We have to give serious thought to how we organize our classrooms to give students with disabilities the best chance to succeed,” Justice said.

Probiotics May help Alleviate Autism Symptoms

Probiotics are a diet supplement trend credited with magical properties ranging from weight loss to anti-aging. Several new studies however show that they very well may help to alleviate Autism symptoms as well.  These studies link Autism with digestive issues which probiotics are known to help manage.

One such study from the National Institute of Heath reports that probiotics can reduce inflammation in the digestive tract that is thought to be partly responsible for some symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).  The study found that the balance of microorganisms in an infant’s digestive tract influences postnatal development.

Studies from the California Institute of Technology indicate that microbiomes of autistic people are differ from those without autism, which they believe contributes to the disorder.  Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) supports this theory, reporting that autistic children are more than three times more likely to suffer from chronic diarrhea or constipation. These chronic inflammatory conditions in the digestive tract are commonly attributed to a condition referred to as “leaky gut syndrome”, or intestinal permeability. The Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition reports on a study that concludes the incidence of intestinal permeability is significantly higher in patients with ASD and their first-degree relatives.

Caltech researchers injected test mice with microbes that induced leaky gut syndrome. These mice then exhibited symptoms associated with Autism such as anxiety, aloofness, and excessive grooming in addition to the expected digestive discomforts. After targeted probiotics were added to the mice’s diets, their leaky guts healed, bacterial molecule level dropped dramatically, and their microbiomes started to resemble those of healthy mice. The most exciting changes though, were in the mice’s behavior – within five weeks, they became more vocal, less anxious, and decreased their obsessive activities.

The bottom line: researchers are convinced that at the very least, probiotics will alleviate inflammation that can affect language as well as cognitive and social development. It has not yet been determined whether probiotics are more effective when taken in supplement form or in whole foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kombucha, pickles, and kimchi. A range of 15 to 30 billion healthy microorganisms are recommended as part of a daily diet to alleviate intestinal inflammation.




The Struggle for ABA Coverage

When 2-year-old Tony Burke was diagnosed with autism, his parents like many in their shoes, wanted to get him the best services they could that would serve their child’s needs. After doing some research they decided to start him with applied behavioral analysis therapy or ABA therapy, which is considered to be one of the most effective treatment methods for those on the spectrum. After some time, Tony’s grunting noises turned into words and then smaller sentences—the therapy was working. But then something happened that slowed down all his hard work—his family’s insurance started to deny claims.

In Pennsylvania, health insurance laws require ABA therapy to be covered, though in Tony’s case, his therapy was not covered in school, where he needed the most help. His family all of a sudden could not afford o pay therapy costs—adding up to $80,000 a year. These autism coverage acts were passed since 2010 in states like Pennsylvania and New Jersey, but coverage for ABA therapy still remains hard to obtain.

The prevalence of complaints can be hard to assess since the law also requires Medicaid to cover autismservices leaving providers who don’t get paid by private insurance with the option to just bill Medicaid. Some insurers also avoid covering therapies a child can get at school, including ABA, by dumping cost onto public schools or other agencies.

Another major problem is delayed payments. Kara Matunas from New Jersey had her claims for her 2 year old autistic daughter repeatedly denied. Her daughter Reagan, was receiving early intervention, speech, developmental, and occupational therapy. Two of the denials were reportedly “incorrectly generated due to a manual handling error.”

“They’re just purposely delaying coverage,” Mrs. Matunas explains. Even when the claims are eventually paid, the family is left paying $400-$500 a month which can be especially hard on even middle-class families. Autism laws apply only to fully insured plans where companies have a contract with insurance companies to pay claims. However, as more and more large firms are converting to self-funded plans where they have to pay for care more directly from their own wallets, coverage seems harder to come by.

Shema Kolainu – Hear Our Voices is a non-profit school and center for children with autism that offer a variety of services at no cost to families all over New York City. They not only offer center-based services, including ABA, speech, art, occupational, therapies to name a few, but also home based services that reach hundreds of families. Organizations like Shema Kolainu have had great success in helping children on the autism spectrum from early intervention to school-age children, and hope to offer services to families like the Burke’s and Matunas who need these services to help their children succeed.

The Benefits of Early Behavioral Intervention

Researchers have analyzed the success of early behavioral interventions. (photo: specialedpost.com)

According to researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, children on the autism spectrum have benefited tremendously from behavior-focused therapies, in comparison to those who did not receive the early behavioral intervention. The recent study updates the prior systematic reviews of interventions, with a focus on recent studies of behavioral interventions.

The review, which was conducted by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, funded by Vanderbilt, states that the quality of research studies has improved dramatically within just 3 years, when authors reported that there were significant gaps in the research that documented the benefits of certain treatments. The new review provides evidence of the effectiveness of early intervention, specifically interventions with behavioral approaches based on applied behavioral analysis (ABA) principles.

Dr. Amy Weitlauf, assistant professor of Pediatrics and an investigator at Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, states, “We are finding more solid evidence, based on higher quality studies, that theseearly intensive behavioral interventions can be effective for young children on the autism spectrum, especially related to their cognitive and language skills.” Dr. Weitlauf continues, “We are also finding evidence that some of these targeted interventions, especially related to cognitive treatments for anxiety disorders, are also very effective for many, many children. Again, responses vary substantially and there are some children for whom these treatments have not yet been studied. So there is lots of promising evidence that these interventions are helpful, but we definitely need more research on which kids the treatments are more helpful for over time.”

Dr. Zachary Warren, director of TRIAD, the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center’s Treatment and Research Institute for Autism Spectrum Disorders, focused on the improvements in children receivingearly behavioral intervention. These children were documented to display impressive progress in cognitive, educational, and language skills. Dr. Warren states, “Given the potential for interventions to powerfully improve children’s quality of life, in combination with the significant costs and resources often associated with treatment, it is not surprising that many groups — parents, providers, policymakers, insurance providers — are searching for an enhanced understanding of which interventions work the best for children with ASD.”

One of the biggest topics facing medical experts is finding the fastest and most effective ways to diagnose a child with ASD, as the diagnosis will enable the child to receive theearly intervention that can truly make the biggest difference in their lives. This study is just one example of howearly behavioral intervention can build multiple skills in the child, and provide them the methods to grow in various aspects to live a life full of opportunities.